Analysis: Despite being ousted from office, former Prime Minister Imran Khan has continued to inflame populist sentiments in ways that could prove polarizing and destabilizing for Pakistan.
After the ousting of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in a vote of no confidence earlier this month by a coalition of opposition parties, and the massive resignation of parliamentarians from his party, all eyes in Pakistan and the beyond are now turned to what happens next.
All major political parties agree that general elections should be held in the near future, but many have differing opinions on “election laws”.
For now, newly elected Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif faces the daunting task of managing a fragile alliance of competing parties while restoring some semblance of political stability.
Ahead of the general elections scheduled for August 2023, it remains to be seen whether Khan will continue his confrontational policy outside parliament or cooperate with the opposition to implement electoral reforms.
While some critics say Khan is now history, many analysts believe he could return to power.
“The scenes unfolding in the streets of Pakistan, which showed tremendous support for Imran Khan, show that millions of Pakistanis at home and abroad have turned their backs on the dynastic regime of Sharifs and Bhuttos,” he said. said Abdul-Bashid Shaikh. , Lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Leeds.
The new prime minister and Bilawal Zardari Bhutto, who is expected to be appointed foreign minister, both hail from political dynasties that have held power in Pakistan for decades.
“While some critics say Khan is now history, many analysts believe he could return to power”
Imran Khan Project
Khan’s opponents have often called him an “elected” and “settled” prime minister backed by the country’s powerful “establishment”, a reference to Pakistan’s political elite and military powers.
The leadership of Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has publicly admitted on several occasions to having the support of the army, an institution that is supposed to be neutral by law but which, in reality, is almost never remained out of power.
“Even an ordinary man on the street knows that a government works as long as the establishment will support it. In the case of Imran Khan, the moment they withdrew their support, the government fell like a house of cards,” explained Professor Tahir Malik of NUML University Islamabad.
Khan, a cricketer turned politician, was seen as a devout and moderate Muslim who promised change and a “new Pakistan” that would tackle corruption and the political establishment.
But many saw his rhetoric of dignity, honor, equality, freedom and justice in stark contrast to his failure to deliver on his key election promises, with economic and security issues dominating his tenure.
Many Khan supporters equate him with Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Muhammed Iqbal, the founding fathers of Pakistan, and often cast him as the hero of the Muslim world and an anti-imperialist figure who stood up to Western powers.
But with little experience in politics, Khan miscalculated the challenges facing the dying economy, misread the aspirations of young Pakistanis and failed to appoint competent ministers. His leadership was also characterized by notable allegations of electoral controversy and corruption.
Despite his charisma, his political failures, bad decisions and failure to deliver on his key promises ultimately led to his downfall.
The conspiracy letter and regime change
In his latest attempt to dodge the no-confidence vote against him, Khan had claimed his impeachment was part of a ploy by foreign powers to restructure Pakistani politics and cited an alleged letter from US officials calling for his removal. The National Security Council expressed concern about foreign interference, but discredited the conspiracy theory.
Even after his dismissal, Khan continued to try to convince the people of Pakistan that the opposition parties secretly made contact with a foreign power to overthrow his government. Pakistani political analyst and columnist Orya Maqbool Jan said he believed the Pakistani military backed the “vote of no confidence” against Khan’s government.
“Imran Khan makes a mountain out of a molehill. There is nothing risky, serious or threatening in this correspondence and these types of communications take place on a regular basis,” defense analyst and retired Lt. Gen. Talat Masood explained to The new Arabicadding that the pretexts of “conspiracy” and “regime change” have little credibility.
Khan’s main source of power – the backing of the military – is therefore no longer, as the political establishment has turned against him. Thus, the head of the Pakistani army recently condemned the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, going against Khan’s neutral position. In turn, the United States reassured Islamabad that Pakistan is an important partner.
“The scenes unfolding in the streets of Pakistan, which showed tremendous support for Imran Khan, show that millions of Pakistanis at home and abroad have turned their backs on the dynastic rule of the Sharifs and Bhuttos”
Stirring up anti-American sentiment
Anti-Western sentiment remains a popular global discourse to build public support, prolong power, and shift governance failures to the United States and the West.
In a bid to salvage his political future, Khan used anti-American rhetoric to mobilize his supporters and the Pakistani public, claiming that American officials and the American Jewish lobby were behind the opposition parties that overthrew his government.
US interventions in the Pakistani situation are by no means new; in fact, almost every government in Pakistan has seen American interference, from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Zia-ul-Haq and even Benazir Bhutto.
However, Khan did not provide a concrete explanation as to why the United States felt the need to overthrow Khan’s government. Looking at its ministers, advisers and heads of major financial institutions, many notable figures are US and UK nationals namely Shahbaz Gill, Moeed Yusuf, Zulfi Bukhari and Ishrat Hussain.
“Throughout his politics, Khan has used Islam, nationalism and foreign conspiracy to mobilize his supporters in the streets. The problem with Khan and his party is that they have a populist and anarchist narrative and they don’t believe in the constitution or the democratic system,” Malik said.
Sleepwalking towards a divided society
At the heart of the political campaigns of Khan and the PTI is a binomial between the good “us” and the bad “them”.
Accordingly, the PTI’s overwhelming use of religious slogans like “the concept of doing good, forbidding evil” serves Khan’s purpose of branding his opponents as the “bad guys”. Now Khan employs similar rhetoric when claiming he was deposed as part of a foreign conspiracy.
Khan’s rhetoric has already fanned the flames of division and partisanship, exacerbating an already fragile and fragmented political landscape. Twitter trends show that ordinary Pakistanis are engaging in political conversations using inflammatory phrases such as “warwill continue”, “traitors” and “government imported”.
“Khan has taken politics to such a level that anyone on the opposing side is branded a ‘traitor’, ‘foreign agent’ and ‘envelope reporter’ because he has a different political orientation than the PTI “
Khan has pushed politics to such a level that anyone on the opposing side is branded a “traitor”, “foreign agent” and “envelope reporter” because they have a different political orientation than the PTI.
“Khan is doing confrontational politics who will be on the streets, it’s a sad situation, and we hope to see maturity from both sides. If the politics continues on the streets, it will eventually affect the economy. We need of peace and stability,” Masood said.
It can be said that Pakistan is at the crossroads of an internal division. As the political crisis continues, the consequences of incendiary political discourse for the country and the diaspora remain to be seen.
Dr Irfan Raja is a British-Pakistani scholar, political analyst and activist with a Masters in International Journalism from the University of Leeds and a PhD from the University of Huddersfield.
Follow him on Twitter: @LeedsUni7